by Vaneetha Risner
We’ve all had painful moments. Some of them have turned into painful months or even years. We wonder if God has abandoned us and if anything good will ever come out of our pain. I know I have. There were many nights when I cried myself to sleep and many days when I could barely function.
I can relate to Jesus’s words, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33b) I have a physical disability and classmates mocked me because of my limp. I’ve had four miscarriages. I buried an infant son due to a doctor’s mistake. My physical condition is deteriorating, and one day I could become a quadriplegic. My husband left me for someone else and I parented two adolescent daughters alone. Each of these things felt beyond difficult as I went through them. But now, in retrospect, I see how God used each of them to draw me to himself and to heal me in ways I never imagined possible.
As I reflect on the traumas I’ve experienced, I have found three keys to finding hope and healing in my suffering.
When trials first came, I wanted to turn away from God. I knew he could have prevented my pain and yet he didn’t. I looked around at others, who seemed to have everything they ever wanted, and I was resentful of all I’d lost. So I pulled away from God, basically giving him the silent treatment because I didn’t have anything positive to say.
But in desperation, months after my son died, I started talking to God, telling him everything that was hard. The Psalms described my long-hidden emotions with questions like, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1). Those words began my continuous dialogue with God, as I found Scripture accurately expressed my loneliness and desperation.
Speaking those honest words changed me—engaging with God and not pulling away drew me to him in unexpected and often breathtaking ways.
For much of my life, I had been busy telling God what I wanted him to do. But in my darkest days, I found myself listening to God, often sitting before an open Bible and saying two things: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (Psalm 119:18) and “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10). Sometimes I forced myself to say those words because the closed Bible in front of me felt cold and uninviting. But after I opened it, something extraordinary would often happen. God would meet me. He would speak to me. He would reveal new truths through verses that I had quickly passed over before.
Martyn Lloyd Jones said that when we are depressed, we need to stop listening to ourselves and start talking. And when I started talking, often using the words of Scripture, my attitude changed. I listened to God’s word, his promises, and what he said about me, which I realized was more reliable than the words I’d been saying to myself.
I had been plagued by the countless unknowns, “what if’s,” and questions in my suffering that destroyed my peace. But when I stopped asking those unanswerable questions and focused on the rock-solid truths that I knew, I could finally rest. I reminded myself that God is for me and nothing can separate me from his love. He helps me in my weakness and will only give me what is best for me. He is using my trials for good, for which one day I will be grateful, because they are accomplishing something (Romans 8: 31, 38-39, 26, 28, 18). Those were the truths I needed to focus on rather than my uncertainties.
Leaning into these three simple principles changed me. On the hardest of days, I developed an underlying peace that I couldn’t explain. I had begun each trial begging God to change my circumstances, but I later saw that his “no’s” were what he used to shape me most. My faith grew deeper, my love for God stronger, and joy more evident.
Through my pain, I understood the truths of Jesus’s words, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Vaneetha Risner is a writer and speaker who is passionate about helping people find hope in the midst of suffering. She is the author of Walking Through Fire and The Scars That Have Shaped Me. Before she started writing, Vaneetha had a career in business and received her BS from University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce and her MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. Vaneetha is married to Joel and has two grown daughters, Katie and Kristi. You can learn more about her on her website and follow her on Instagram.